The Fire That Burns is an absolutely gorgeous French film that transcends the idea of gay youths falling in love to explore the ageless, genderless power of the love of which the Bible speaks.
At a Catholic junior high boarding school for boys in pre-World War II Paris, two young boys are in love with each other. Sevrais (Naël Marandin) is the day student who gets excellent grades. Younger Souplier (Clement van den Bergh), is the troublemaker, now a boarder. Abbot de Pradts (Christophe Malavoy), has taken an interest in Souplier, saving him from expulsion twice because he wants to mentor him and be his father figure. It is no secret that Sevrais and Souplier, as well as other pairs of boys, have deep relationships and sneak around to spend time alone with each other. But, rather than put a stop to the relationship between Sevrais and Souplier as he has the other boys, de Pradts seems to allow it. But it's all part of a plan he has to get Sevrais out of the picture, because he is actually jealous of the incredibly deep love that has grown between the two young men.
This film does an astounding job of getting to the heart of the love between two males. There isn't even a slight focus on sex, just the pure innocent emotional attraction between young boys who are in love with each other. This is the first time I've seen a movie that explores the often ignored attachments very young gay boys have to other boys because most people believe that you don't have these feelings naturally as you develop, but just suddenly decide to go gay when you become an adult. Also, as if foreshadowing what was to come in reality, this movie, made in 1997 and based on a French novel that was a play before it even became a movie, focuses on secrets in the Catholic Church. Here, there isn't a blatant denial of the male-to-male attractions that are plentiful at this school, but they are kept carefully hidden, causing guilt that leads to either silencing shame or acting out. The bigger picture of this film is about how those who claim to speak the word of God instead think that they are God, and will do anything, no matter how selfish and cruel, to manipulate people to do exactly what they want. And there's also a passionately thought-provoking look at the true meaning of love and all its intangible, inexplicable power over those who actually experience it. And most importantly, it manages to never be an attack on religion, because there is a wonderful balance between the extremes of the men of the clothe in this film, showing that there is also compassion and humanity to be found in religion.
The 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation offers excellent bright/dark contrast, natural skin tones, and perfectly saturated colors. A bit of edge enhancement softens the image somewhat, and there are tiny hints of specs and dust that occasionally get worse momentarily. There is also one hiccup due to layering right near the end of the movie.
You have the option of 2.0 stereo or 5.1. The 2.0 sounds quite flat compared to the 5.1 audio track, which is loud and clear. Left/right separation is used most often, and the surround speakers are used for ambience during outdoor scenes, add a momentous echoing effect during scenes inside the church, and also fill the room with sound during musical cues.
The DVD offers 18 chapter breaks, and the main menu shows clips from the film. Extras include:
COMING ATTRACTIONS—the main screen offers 5 listings, but the last one, entitled "Tales from the Orphanage" breaks down into 4 films, so in all, there are 8 previews.
PICTURE THIS!—This selection just offers you contact info for the company.
SETUP—here, you can choose between 5.1 or 2.0 sound, as well as turning on or off the English subtitles, which carry through all the extras below.
SPECIAL FEATURES—this option brings you to a submenu. The submenu offers a 15 minute interview with a now grown Naël Marandin, who discusses how he played the role of Souplier in the original stage version, and compares the movie to the play. There is a 20 minute interview with Michel Aumont, who has a lesser but important role as the Superior in the movie. He begins by discussing the film, then spends most of the interview recapping his career as a stage and screen performer. Finally, there are 14 still shots from the movie in the Photo Gallery.
The Fire That Burns is a brilliant French movie that demonstrates that the thing most often overlooked when people throw around the word "faith" is the most important faith of all—faith in the power of love, which draws people together for a reason, be they straight or gay.